As of this morning, I have lost forty pounds of postnatal weight. That’s all the baby weight accounted for, plus five pounds, which is a feat I should be celebrating. Unfortunately, I still have a long way to go.
The weight that registered on my scale this morning was, before I got pregnant with the boy, the heaviest I’d ever been. It’s six pounds into the overweight zone as far as BMI is concerned. Before babies, I’d only ever reached this weight because of over-indulgent vacations, and I’d never stayed here long. However, though my weight has almost always been within (often well within) the normal BMI range, I have felt self conscious about my weight almost every day since I was (if I remember correctly) eleven years old. That’s twenty years of disliking my body, eleven years of indifference. Except for those times in the third and fourth grade at the swimming pool, noticing how much rounder my belly was than the other girls’. Or the day in first grade when the girls laughed at me for weighing a whopping 55 pounds.
My freshman year of high school, I joined the swim team: partially because my mom said I had to play a sport, and partially because I’d watched a video of myself and been appalled at my awkward, chubby self. I would love to be so “chubby” now.
I gained a total of thirty-five pounds when I was pregnant with Sam, and I lost it all in a few months, plus ten pounds more (I weighed what I do now when he was conceived). By his first birthday, I fit into most of my size ten clothing, which with my height and body type, means I was fairly slim but not skinny. When I see pictures of his first birthday, I think now how good I looked; on the day, I went through a dozen outfits trying to find the most flattering and still felt like an overstuffed sausage throughout the party despite the peplum that camouflaged my midsection. My brain told me, fat fat fat,whenever I looked in a mirror.
I started looking at old pictures every day and remembering how I felt about my body when each photo was taken. Even the photos where I had recently lost weight and felt good about myself, I could remember sucking in my gut or angling myself to my best advantage. I am always going to feel fat, I thought. And if I was always going to feel fat, why bother being thin? So I started eating whatever I wanted. However much of it I wanted. The weight piled on. At some point in there I went on anti-depressants, having realized (and had it pointed out to me) how unhealthy my thinking (and physique) had become. They helped with my moods but they certainly didn’t stop me from eating. In fact, I’m not 100% sure whether it was the pills or the complete freedom to eat that made me happier. I’ve been on a diet of some sort most of my adult life, and whenever I’ve let go and eaten more, I’ve known there would be another diet to come. But this time, I really broke some sort of chain. I didn’t even make a New Year’s Resolution that year, not to lose weight, not to exercise, not even to learn to knit. The fog I’d been wading through lifted and I decided that I really wanted another baby. Hence, the existence of the girl.
(Disclaimer: I’d wanted the girl for a long time. She does not exist solely because of a chemical high. But I can’t deny it was part of the equation.)
When I got pregnant, I ditched the happy pills and encountered the inevitable crash that comes with quitting that kind of drug. Then the first trimester hormones kicked in and pushed me down even farther. I have never been more depressed in my life than I was in my first three or four months of pregnancy. It lifted a little in the second trimester, but came back in spurts. I didn’t care much about what I weighed or looked like, because I didn’t care much about anything. That’s the thing about depression: it’s not just sadness. You become disconnected from the things that were once important to you.
But here’s the kicker: when the worst had past and quite a few pounds had been gained, I started looking in the mirror and thinking, I’m pretty!, exclamation point and all. Sometimes I would stand and look at myself in awe. Had I always been this pretty, or was it the pregnant glow? I saw my throat ballooning to a double chin. I saw my arms widening and jiggling, my collarbone sinking into my flesh. These things didn’t thrill me, but there was something about ME that I couldn’t stop admiring. I was almost embarrassed to think this way, even though no one was looking.
There is a scene from the TV show Scrubs that comes back to me now and then, and I think it encapsulates my inner conversation about my weight. Dr. Cox and Dr. Turk are going for a run, and Cox says something like, “As soon as you look in the mirror and like what you see, you’ve lost.” Turk raises an eyebrow and says something like, “You should teach middle school girls.”
Eventually, I gave birth. The hormonal cocktail changed. Eventually, I looked at my body with the same old disdain. And so, I began the struggle to lose the weight.
I’m trying to be healthier this time, both physically and mentally. My New Year’s Resolution was “to make exercise an important part of my life.” I didn’t officially resolve to lose any amount of weight, though the numbers are always there, floating around in my head. My fitness tracker asked that I set an official goal, so I did–and perhaps I was overly ambitious.
I can’t remember if it was before the girl was born or after, but my mother, who has struggled with her weight her entire life, said to me that it was almost a relief to see that I’d put on so much weight. In general, I take after my stick-skinny dad, or at least I take after his mother. It was strange for me to hear my mom say that; while I have been aware of her weight at various times, I have never thought of her size as something negative. She is simply my mom, and I love her as she is. But hearing her relief–her relief?–I realized how much I’ve vented my frustrations about my extra ten or fifteen pounds, my immovable belly fat, how insensitive I’ve been toward her when with acquaintances and strangers I have always had the policy of not talking about weight or diets if I’m the skinniest one in the room.
I said to her once during my pregnancy with the boy that I’d gone to a yoga class and despaired to be the fattest person in the room. It was the first time that had ever happened to me. I could hear her wry smile through the cellular network. I believe, “Yeah,” was all she said.
A couple weeks after the girl was born, I weighed 225 pounds. I had told myself that I would never weigh over 200 without a baby in my belly, and really, I wanted 200 to be the ultimate max. I focused on these numbers, the idea of an ideal me, and the person I never, ever wanted to be. The body that I never, ever wanted to have. I never wanted to walk down the aisle of an airplane and feel like I was walking on a tightrope, balancing carefully just to keep from hip-checking somebody’s face. Now I’ve done that. I never wanted to get stuck trying to follow my kid through a playground. Now I’ve done that. And I’ve berated myself for it. Enough that my son, my speech-delayed three-year-old son, has started giggling and saying, “Mommy fat!” when he wants my attention.
Maybe Mommy is fat. Maybe I’ll lose the weight I want to lose and maybe it will stay off; maybe not. But that my son is already aware in some way of weight as a problem? That bothers me. That really bothers me. He is three years old, and he is a big boy. His BMI is in the overweight range, though most people describe him as “sturdy.” He is tall, and he has truly big bones, and those bones are nicely padded. As soon as we learned of his blood sugar issues, we knew that weight might be an issue. His body cannot maintain blood sugar like other people’s can. He needs to eat close to bedtime. He needs his snacks. We have not figured out the perfect balance, and who knows when we will. His BMI has gone down in the last six months, but he will likely have some sort of issue with his weight. I do not want it to plague him. I do not want him to spend his life thinking about his weight, counting calories, binge eating, starving, skipping parties so he isn’t tempted by beer and bean dip, worrying worrying worrying how he looks and what people think.
This year, I resolved to make exercise important in my life, not just for myself, but for him. My parents always wanted me to play sports, and I thought, you don’t play sports, so why should I? My husband is part of a curling league. Offbeat as it might be, he plays a sport. I thought of joining the YMCA swim team but, alas, I’m still not confident enough in a swimsuit. My dad used to be a runner; maybe I’ll find a talent for that. I’m thinking of taking archery lessons, of putting up a basketball hoop in my yard. The boy has been talking about soccer, probably because Brother Bear of the Berenstain Bears plays soccer. I could play soccer. I could teach him how to play soccer. I could learn the rules.